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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Although violence has ceased, ethnicities in BiH still take centre stage in the country’s decision making processes.

Assessed Groups

  • Ethno-Religious
  • Class
  • Transnational Migration

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a country in Southeastern Europe with a history of intragroup violence and instability. It has a diverse population with three main ethnic groups, Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats. In the 1990s, BiH was the site of violent conflict between these three groups that lasted for several years and caused significant damage and loss of life.  After this conflict, the three ethnic groups came together under the Dayton Peace Agreement (1995) and agreed to share power. What resulted is called a “consociational model” that ensures that each ethnic group is represented in the government. While this model has helped keep peace in BiH, this report discusses feelings of collective identity and national belonging and how they can still be further developed. Today, BiH has made progress toward rebuilding and reconciling since the conflict, but still faces many challenges, including corruption, class divides, political instability and unequal policies that privilege certain ethnic groups over others. This assessment was completed in 2021.

Key Takeaways

Prevention of Physical Violence over Structural Violence

For all intents and purposes, the Dayton Peace Agreement succeeded in subduing violent clashes between ethnic groups in BiH. However, what resulted are embedded inequalities that limit the country from overcoming ethnic divides and becoming a more equal society.


While physical violence is no longer prevalent, structural violences against the country’s minority communities are often overlooked – preventing BiH’s move toward a more equal and pluralistic society.

Low Collective Ownership over Society

Due to the government’s constitutional setup, ownership of society sits at the state level and can limit members of the three constituent groups from vocalizing their concerns. Moreover, individuals who sit outside of these groups have no legal space to voice their needs, which has the potential to lead to further exclusion.

Citizens of all constituent and minority groups exhibit low levels of national belonging and social trust that prevent the cultivation of strong collective ties and the development of a common national narrative.

Ethnic divisions are not the only divisions that matter in BiH

Employment opportunities and resource distribution in BiH are deeply impacted by partisanship, ethnic identification and corruption. As urban-rural divides grow, so do economic imbalances that intersect with education levels, gender and ethnic belonging.

As a result, class becomes intimately intertwined with ethno-political divides that serve to maintain the pre-war status quo and limit most citizens’ upward mobility in society.



To continue working toward a more inclusive and diverse society, the government can adopt policies that target marginalized communities such as national minorities, women, and LGBTQIA+ individuals.

This could include affirmative action in education and welfare, as well as greater economic engagement for women and protection of natural resources. It is important that marginalized groups have equal access to employment opportunities and social wealth.

Civil Society

Civil society actors in BiH can further collaborate to promote education on pluralism and diversity. As many registered civil society organizations (CSO) focus on sports, recreation and culture, there are opportunities for intercultural exchange.

CSOs could advocate for their inclusion in policy-making and consider using crowdfunding for initiatives related to child rights and the environment due to limited and project-based funding.

International Actors

The European Commission can establish a rewards and sanctions system for its conditionality mechanism. United Nations agencies can work with local communities for human rights and reform.

Actors can also broaden their focus to include class and migration in their policies, data collection, and monitoring. This is crucial in understanding diversity and pluralism during BiH’s continued movement toward a more equal society.


Legal Commitments

International Commitments

Average score: 7

BiH adopted and implemented several international, national and regional agreements and instruments for protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. However, the country’s constitutional framework creates an unequal divide between the guaranteed rights of the constituent peoples (Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats) and the rights that other ethno-religious communities and other groups facing marginalization are guaranteed.

National Commitments

Average score: 5

The Dayton Peace Agreement ended the conflict in BiH and established mechanisms for human rights and refugee protection. BiH’s citizens have various rights and freedoms, including the right to life, education, and property. However, ethnic groups’ rights prevail over other collective and individual rights, leading to BiH’s citizens having difficulties in expressing their opinions outside of the purview of the three constituent groups’ interests.

Inclusive Citizenship

Average score: 6

BiH’s citizenship system is complex and has two levels, with citizenship regulated at both the state and entity levels. This creates legal uncertainty and potential exclusions for specific groups. BiH’s naturalization process also differs significantly between entities and dual citizenship is generally not allowed except in cases of national interest or mutual agreement.


Policy Implementation

Average score: 3

BiH has various agencies and initiatives that promote diversity and pluralism, but ethnic cleavages remain dominant in political, social and economic life. The country’s poverty rate is high, and women, national minorities, Roma and transnational migrants face discrimination.

Data Collection

Average score: 5

Data accessibility varies widely, with data on gender and age available but data on ethnic belonging, minority status, urban-rural status and societal developments are lacking. This is partly due to political sensitivities that make ethno-religious composition contested.

Claims-making and Contestation

Average score: 5

The process of claims-making in BiH is structured through institutional mechanisms at the state, entity and district levels. The constitution’s design limits cross-group solidarity and mobilization, making cases of socio-political mobilization across ethnic categories a rarity.

Leadership for Pluralism

Political Parties

Average score: 2

BiH’s political landscape is dominated by three ethnic-based nationalist parties representing Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. These parties discourage cross-ethnic affiliations, and minor parties promoting diversity and pluralism struggle to gain support. However, there is potential for pluralist actors to gain salience in urban centers due to dissatisfaction with ethnic cleavages and corruption.

News Media: Representation

Average score: 4

The media landscape is diverse but lacks pluralism due to media partisanship driven by domestic ethno-political elites and their business interests. Media content covers main socio-political issues but does not capture the plurality of languages and views in the country, promotes stereotypes and offers limited coverage of issues pertaining to minorities and transnational migrants.

News Media: Prominence of Pluralistic Actors

Average score: 3

The public broadcasting system is committed to pluralism and objective information but is often partial to ethnic, political and commercial interests. The country’s media represents the views of the political elites and tycoons, resulting in low trust of citizens in media and media freedoms.

Civil Society

Average score: 5

There are over 23,000 registered CSOs in BiH. However, the civil society sector is weak and fragmented due to institutional and financial dependence on foreign donors. While a third of the country’s population are members of CSOs, only 5 percent take part in CSOs that promote democratization and play a role in political processes.

Private Sector

Average score: 3

Ethno-nationalist elites control many of BiH’s major companies. There are notable inequalities in the workforce, with women and minorities facing greater difficulties in employment and pay. Educational standards remain low, resulting in many young people joining the workforce instead of pursuing higher education.

Group-based Inequalities


Average score: 3

BiH’s constitutional framework limits political participation and candidacy rights for non-constituent peoples and women. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against this, but no changes have been made. There is also no representation for transnational migrants, and laws to protect their interests do not exist.


Average score: 3

BiH’s economic inequalities are among the highest in Europe and intersect with gender, education, ethnicity, and urban-rural divides. The country faces high unemployment, a significant gender wage gap, and discriminatory practices in labour markets. Property rights and resource ownership remain problematic for women and marginalized groups.


Average score: 4

BiH’s education system reflects the country’s complex political and social divisions. Access to education is uneven, particularly for vulnerable groups such as Roma children. The healthcare system is also based on regional entities, resulting in unequal access to care for vulnerable groups. The welfare system is weak and fails to provide equal protection to all vulnerable individuals.


Average score: 4

The Dayton Peace Agreement created an institutional framework that reinforces ethnic, religious, and linguistic affiliations, leading to social and cultural division, mistrust, and discrimination against non-constituent peoples. Despite socio-cultural and linguistic similarities among ethnic groups, cultural and class inequalities are interlinked, with power holders being ethnic elites and their supporters. This situation results in privileged access to cultural production.

Access to Justice

Average score: 4

BiH’s fragmented institutional framework undermines the rule of law and access to justice for all citizens. Ethnic, religious and socioeconomic factors obstruct equal access to justice, especially for minority groups. The judicial system requires structural reform and international efforts to reform the justice system have met opposition.

Intergroup Relations and Belonging

Intergroup Violence

Average score: 7

The structure of society created by the Dayton Peace Agreement has successfully reduced inter-ethnic and inter-religious violence in post-war BiH, despite socio-political inequalities and marginalization of minority communities. However, hate crimes still occur and mechanisms for properly recording them are lacking, resulting in minimal and inconsistent data.

Intergroup Trust

Average score: 3

A report on intergroup trust shows low levels of trust among the three dominant communities, with Serbs showing the highest level of trust. Although mixing among different ethnic groups is seen as a sign of intergroup trust, the percentage of respondents who approve of inter-ethnic marriage is low.

Trust in Institutions

Average score: 2

A lack of disaggregated data makes it difficult to determine the level of trust in public institutions per ethnic community in BiH. However, surveys indicate that citizens rank the national government as the least popular institution, with a high level of mistrust in law enforcement, the police, the judiciary, and education and healthcare systems.

Inclusion and Acceptance

Average score: 3

Ethnic and religious identity strongly influence intergroup relations, with practical obstacles for certain groups to express their identity in some regions. Many young people fear for the future of their ethnic group, while socioeconomic status and minority status can lead to marginalization. The Roma community is systematically excluded, while attitudes towards migrants and refugees are mixed.

Shared Ownership of Society

Average score: 2

BiH has low political participation, resulting in some voices not being heard. Its political and constitutional setup means ownership of society at the state level is virtually non-existent, reflected in an exclusionary and flawed guarantee of societal ownership for the three constituent communities.